I’ve been asked several times “Why did you decide to build with earthbags?” There are several reasons why my wife and I chose this method of construction. One is that we were able to quickly develop the skills needed to build this way. It’s pretty simple actually. Another is that it’s affordable. I bought 3000 grain bags for $600 and still have quite a few left over for some other projects. Our fill is made of clay-rich soil and reject crusher fines from a local gravel pit. The crusher fines cost me $1.25 per cubic yard. The clay was free. It’s just been laying around my property for about a million years or so. All the tools were pretty cheap to buy or easy to build myself.
We were looking for something that just the two of us would be able to do with no outside help. Paid contractors cost a lot and friends who offer to help just want to visit, get in the way and eat some barbecue. So we did it all ourselves. We also wanted to show others interested in possibly building their own home that it CAN be done with very few resources.
Of course there are other options. Straw bales certainly have advantages when it comes to insulation, but small square bales aren’t as easy to come by around here as they used to be. Cob is easy to make and super cheap but I wasn’t looking forward to putting my feet through that much pain. (I actually used cob for the office portion of our new home, and it worked great). Originally the plan was to build an earthship. Tires rammed full of earth make very solid walls (but so do earthbags). During research however, I came across a site detailing some of the negative issues with this method. It said several had been started and abandoned for various reasons, usually the intense amount of labour required. The line “U-shaped piles of broken dreams” first made me laugh, then rethink my approach to my goals.
Why do any of this in the first place? We want to have a home that will last us the rest of our lives. I’m in my late forties, so I figure I’ve probably got about another 70 years or so to go. I sure as hell don’t want to be building another home when I’m 120. Seriously though, this structure is part of my retirement plan. It should last a VERY long time. Also, passive heating and cooling is part of the design, allowing us to be energy self-sufficient. We’ll be off grid, producing all our own electricity using solar and home built wind turbines.
Here’s another question I get asked all the time, “When will that solar stuff pay off? You could probably stay on the grid forever with what it’s costing you”. This one causes me to ‘get up on my hind legs’ a bit. First of all, when will that 40 inch flatscreen TV you bought to replace your 32 inch pay off? Oh, I see, never. When will that shiny SUV or BMW pay for itself? What, it’s worth less than what you owe on it? Mmm Hmm.
The power around here goes out all the time, often for no apparent reason. My system will pay for itself the first time I don’t loose a freezer full of meat. Or when the entire grid goes down (yes, I do believe that will happen) and I don’t even notice. Not paying the greedy, uncaring overpriced power company every month is a nice perk too. At one point, the power company threatened to cut off my power if I didn’t pay another person’s bill. “Sorry Mr. Muddome”, they said, “It’s right here in the computer. Sure it’s not your name or land location, but the computer says you should pay it. And since it’s really cold outside, we’re pretty sure you will see it our way.” I guess my system pays for itself the first month I no longer have to pay the power company.